Fallen Flags, The Classic American Railroad

Fallen Flags, a name all too common now describing American railroads (just a bittersweet fact of the free market at work), is a term describing those railroads whose corporate name has been dissolved either through merger, bankruptcy, or liquidation. At one time in the United States there were nearly 140 Class I railroads (or those with at least $1 million annual operating revenue at that time) and today these are commonly known as the fallen flags or “classic” railroads. The older folks reading this can remember almost all of these in person, from the legendary Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway with its famous Warbonnet paint scheme to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and this country’s first common carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Milwaukee Road Little Joe E21 powers an eastbound manifest freight as the train climbs out of Avery, Idaho along the St. Joe River during August of 1971.

Most of the classic roads remembered today operated roughly until the 1970s before bankruptcy and mass-mergers (which began in the 1950s with the Norfolk & Western purchase of the Virginian Railway) did many in and dwindled the Class I numbers to just a handful. While the glory days of railroads (when they were earning the most profits) extended from roughly the late 19th century to just after WWII, ask most railfans and the time period with which these railroads are best remembered extends from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s when the railroads began switching from steam locomotives to diesel-electrics (commonly known as “diesels”) and paint schemes and emblems abounded, giving each company its own, personal identity with which folks could relate to.

Much of this "bonding" came from the fact that railroads during those days operated in a particular region or part of the country where folks could easily recognize the system which ran through their town (and to some extent, railroads back then used to be a bit more cordial than today), and not the entire eastern or western half of the country like we see today (for instance, some small towns boasted four to five Class Is at one time!). It should be noted however, that many of the lines we recognize today as classics either did not start out that way or were "mega-mergers" themselves through purchase or takeover of other, smaller systems. Examples of these companies include the New York Central, Reading, New Haven, Atlantic Coast Line, Missouri Pacific, and many others.

In truth, there were actually few now well-known systems that constructed much of their own network or key main routes; it was much less costly to simply purchase smaller lines. In general, many fabled lines gained their names during either the late 19th or early 20th centuries. A few, like the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio system were not created until the 1930s. In any event, today nearly all of those classic companies are gone except for just a few (the Union Pacific is perhaps the most notable along with the Kansas City Southern and the roads up north, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National), although their legends and names will always live on.

Katy GP40 #180 leads several other Geeps as they roll through Coupland, Texas with a work train on a bright summer day in July of 1977.

Of course, aside from former Class Is (about the only classic lines featured here) other, smaller historic railroads can still be found in service with names like the Ann Arbor, Escanaba & Lake Superior, Claremont Concord, Wheeling & Lake Erie, New York Susquehanna & Western, Florida East Coast, Winchester & Western, Apache Railway, Toledo Peoria & Western, and many more. Below you will find information on some of the best remembered describing each in more detail and broken down into the territory where they operated (i.e., east, west, north, south). Since the website first debuted I have finally had the chance to feature many of these lines although I realize that some are still omitted. As time allows in the future I will look to cover these companies although as it currently stands there are nearly 100 highlighted.

Northeast

The Alphabet Route

Baltimore & Ohio

Bangor & Aroostook Railroad

Bessemer & Lake Erie

Boston & Maine

Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad

Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway

Canadian National Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

Canadian Pacific Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

Central Railroad of New Jersey (Jersey Central)

Central Vermont Railway

Chesapeake & Ohio

Chessie System

Conrail

Delaware & Hudson

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (The Lackawanna)

Erie Railroad

Erie Lackawanna

Lehigh & Hudson River

Lehigh & New England

Lehigh Valley

Long Island Rail Road (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)

Maine Central

Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad

Monongahela Railway

New York Central System

New York, New Haven & Hartford

New York, Ontario & Western Railway

Pennsylvania Railroad

Penn Central

Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie

Pittsburgh & West Virginia

Reading Lines

Rutland Railroad

West Virginia Northern

Western Maryland

Rock Island U25B #235 sits at the Silvis, Illinois yard as it is prepared to be sold in February of 1980. The railroad has just a month to live and will be shutdown and liquidated in March.

Southeast

Atlantic Coast Line

Central of Georgia

Clinchfield Railroad

Family Lines System

Florida East Coast (FEC) (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

Gulf, Mobile & Ohio

Interstate Railroad

Louisville & Nashville

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis

Norfolk & Western Railway

Norfolk, Franklin & Danville Railway

Norfolk Southern (Original)

Oneida & Western

Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac

Seaboard Air Line

Seaboard Coast Line

Southern Railway

Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway, "The TAG Route"

Tennessee Central Railway

Virginian

West Point Route

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #8444 heads up Ross Rowland's Gold Spike Special on May 10th, 1969 as it rolls southbound through Ogden, Utah. The train is headed to Promontory for the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad's completion.

Midwest

Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad

Algoma Central Railway

Belt Railway of Chicago (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)

Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railroad

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (The Burlington Route)

Chicago & Eastern Illinois

Chicago & Illinois Midland

Chicago & North Western

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island)

Chicago & Western Indiana

Chicago Great Western

Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)

Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern

Detroit & Mackinac Railway

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton

Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range

Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway

Gateway Western Railway

Green Bay & Western

Grand Trunk Western

Illinois Central

Illinois Terminal

Indiana Harbor Belt (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad

Kansas City Southern (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

Lake Superior & Ishpeming (This railroad is still operating but placed here because of its historical significance.)

Minneapolis & St. Louis

Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern

Monon Route

New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (The Nickel Plate Road)

Pere Marquette Railway

Soo Line

St. Louis Southwestern (The Cotton Belt)

Toledo, Peoria & Western (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)

Wabash

Wisconsin Central Railway/Ltd.

Western Pacific FP7 #804-D is at speed as it leads the California Zephyr through Livermore, California during February of 1970. To the left is the now-abandoned Southern Pacific line through Niles Canyon.

Southwest

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (The Santa Fe)

Colorado & Southern

Denver & Rio Grande Western (The Rio Grande)

El Paso & Southwestern

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy)

Missouri Pacific (The MoPac)

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (The Frisco)

Southern Pacific

Union Pacific (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)

NP U25C #2508 is in the lead powering a manifest freight into the Missoula, Montana yard some time during 1968.

Northwest

Burlington Northern

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (The Milwaukee Road)

The Milwaukee Road's Pacific Coast Extension

Great Northern

Northern Pacific

Pacific Electric Railway

Spokane International

Spokane, Portland & Seattle (SP&S)

Western Pacific

Yakima Valley Transportation

Canadian Lines

Pacific Great Eastern/British Columbia Railway

Northern Alberta Railways

Railway Express Agency (The REA was not an operating railroad but was an integral part of the railroad industry during the "golden age" when all of the classic systems were in operation.)


The Rio Grande's fabled narrow-gauge lines were nearing their end when this scene was captured on August 28, 1968 showing Mike K-37 #498 heading an eastbound freight away from Durango. This stretch of the route is now abandoned.

You may notice that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are now included in the website. After giving it much thought the two lines have played too significant of a role in the railroad industry's history, especially in its current and future state, to be left out and unmentioned. For instance several are now of Canadian ownership/control such as the Soo Line (and indirectly the Milwaukee Road through the Soo's takeover by CP), Delaware & Hudson Railway, Illinois Central, Grand Trunk Western, Central Vermont, and the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway.  Lastly, for more reading about many classic short lines like the Durham & Southern, Magma Arizona, Camas Prairie, and other please click here.

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